If you think about French architecture and history, there’s probably one type of structure that immediately springs to mind: castles, or as they’re known in French, “chateaux.” These grand buildings can be found all over France, they are everywhere. From flawlessly well-maintained palaces to destroyed ruins and everywhere in between, why are there so many castles in France, and what happened to them?
How Many Castles Are There in France?
Amazingly, there are around 45,000 castles across France. Yep, you read that right. To put that in perspective, there are only around 36,000 communities in France, so there’s more than one castle per community.
Why Are There so Many Castles in France?
It’s crazy that there are that many castles in France, but there are a few historical reasons why there are so many castles in France. Let’s find out what they are!
1. Fortifying France
The first reason why there are so many castles in France is for predominantly military and security purposes. If you had a fortress either around a town or up on a hill overlooking the approach to a city, it was a strategic move.
From the high ground, you could see enemy troops coming from miles away, or if you had a walled town or city, it was a huge deterrent, especially with medieval styles of warfare and weaponry.
Over the years, the French have had no shortage of enemies. The most prevalent of all, however, were the English.
The inaccurately named Hundred Years War was the cause of a lot of the French castles being built.
This was to fortify towns, cities, and villages across France and protect wealthy landowners and the aristocracy from being targeted by the English.
You’ll find a lot of walled fortresses and castles with slits in the walls, designed for archers to shoot from, should the castle be under siege. If the French castle you’re visiting has a moat and a drawbridge, then it was probably a fortress at one point in time.
These kinds of fortresses can be found all over France, and all over Europe, as there was pretty much always a war going on between someone!
For castles from this period, there is definitely more of a practice, strategic purpose, and location behind them, rather than the next set of French castles…
2. Design and Renaissance
As time marched on from the medieval period towards the renaissance, the French turned their attention toward the artistic and stylistically minded Italians.
Given the beautiful frescos, halls, and palaces that were being built by the masters of the time, including Da Vinci, the French aristocracy and wealthy merchants wanted to build something similar.
It was during this period that a lot of the more opulent castles were built as status symbols, and to give patronage to artists, architects, and sculptures that the upper class deemed worthy.
During this time, huge palaces like Versailles were also being built, raising the bar higher and higher for taste and style. This of course meant that more money was being poured into architecture and away from any sort of social causes.
Add in the landscaping aspect of these spectacular castles and there was definitely a lot of money, time, and artistry being thrown around during this period of French renaissance.
3. Revolutionary Impact
With there being so much money and clear showing off going on during the French renaissance, the gap between the wealthy aristocracy and the lower classes became more and more apparent. This obviously all came to a head with the French Revolution.
Now you’ve probably learned about this in your history lessons, but the long and short of it is, that the lower classes and workers rose up and revolted against the ruling classes, including the monarchy.
It was a bloodbath with aristocracy trying to flee the country before they could be killed, especially after the King was put to death. This meant that many of the fancy castles that were built during the renaissance and the fortress that were a symbol of French sacrifice became fair game.
To the working classes, the castles that had been built, especially during the French renaissance, were a symbol of opulence, class distinction, and pure selfishness.
As a result, during the French Revolution, many of these castles were destroyed, vandalized, or simply left abandoned by their fleeing owners.
In the years that followed, these properties fell into disrepair as there wasn’t anyone living in them, and during the revolution, no one had the money to fix them up.
What About Now?
With so many castles all around France, they are all in various states. Some have been bought back by the state on historical grounds and turned into museums and tourist attractions.
Some have been left in their abandoned state or demolished as they’re too far gone for anything to be done to them.
A huge majority of them have been bought up by either French or overseas buyers looking to renovate them and either live in them or use them for events or hospitality.
The number of French chateaus that are now available for weddings, retreats, or are run as bed and breakfast spots is huge.
All over the country, there are historically-minded and stylish castles that have been converted so that you can stay in and live like a French aristocrat for a night – except you get to keep your head in the morning!
Despite many people buying up these French castles for a relatively bargain price, the amount of funds it takes to renovate these historical marvels, especially in order to keep them looking true to their original vision, is substantial.
Many people buy up a French chateau with a healthy budget for renovations, only to find more and more problems the further they get into the work. The result is that they end up having to sell the property before seeing any return, to try and get some of their money back.
So, if you’re looking at buying one of the many castles in France that are currently on the market, take a long hard look at how much it’s going to cost, and maybe watch a few episodes of Escape to the Chateau – a show where an engineer and an interior designer couple buy a French chateau and do it up for events and for their family to live in.
It’s an eye-opening show about how even the most skilled tradespeople need a lot of money and patience to deal with successfully renovating a French chateau.
So Many Castles, So Little Time
So, all in all, there are a few reasons why there are so many castles in France, but it comes down to two key reasons: they were built either to protect and fortify the surrounding town or community, or they were built to show off wealth and status by tone-deaf aristocrats.
In any case, the French revolution led to a huge downfall in the state of French castles which are now slowly being renovated by historians, councils, and budding entrepreneurs, looking to run a business in the beautiful French countryside.
With over 45,000 castles to choose from all across France, no matter where you’re planning to visit or relocate to, there’s bound to be at least one French chateau near you!